I’m continuing Tasya’s story, although this episode took place after the first one, Back of the Drawer, but before the second one, Peace & Love. Tasya is still pregnant. I hope Yolanda and Denise from the WEP website, as well as the other participants, will forgive my temporal inconsistency.
“I don’t want to steal with my magic,” Tasya objected. “I’m not a thief.”
“What if someone’s life depends on your ability to steal? Someone might need money to escape arrest,” Grandma said sternly. “You pitch your magic against NKVD – you can’t be squeamish.”
The old witch was right, as usual. Tasya sighed and repeated the exercise. Create a dark space – like under an overturned pot. Envision what you steal. Pull with magic.
She didn’t plan to get rich from her loot anyway. She only stole a few coins from each of the people passing beneath the window. Later, she would give the money away to someone needy.
An hour later, Tasya left her grandma’s place but she didn’t want to return to her empty room. Misha was on a business trips to Voronezh. Again. Lately, he had spent weeks there. His company was building a new plant. As an engineer, he was needed on site. Without him, she felt lonely and uneasy.
Vague premonition had been simmering inside her, and she couldn’t explain it. Misha should be safe; he wore the shield medallion infused with her protective magic. She should be safe too: she was a mere librarian. Just in case, she had recently taken to wearing one of her protective medallions as well – a charming golden fish. Her baby swam like a fish inside her belly after all.
Smiling at the thought, she trudged along the path winding through a shallow ravine, overgrown with bracken. A creek at the bottom separated her old housing development from the more gentrified city blocks and their local theatre house. Tonight, her friend Garik performed in the show. She would wait for him to come out afterwards and hope he could cheer her up.
He had always managed that. They had been classmates and friends, the three of them – Misha, Garik, and herself – since high school. They had lived on the same street too. Garik, the class clown, had always wanted to be an actor. Now he was one.
Absently caressing her belly, Tasya crossed the little foot bridge over the creek. She had to stop on the other side, under the huge willow, to catch her breath. The purloined coins in her purse weighed heavily. Darn her pregnancy. She had never been so weak before.
Panting, she leaned on the willow’s trunk, concealed from the street by the dense, multilayered foliage and the falling dusk. People passed a few meters away, but nobody spared a glance her way. When a loathsome black Marusia rolled to a stop in front of the theatre and two men got out, they didn’t see her either. They marched inside the theatre. They came to arrest someone.
Despite the balmy evening, icy dread ran down Tasya’s spine. Garik, get out, she pleaded silently, trying to nudge her friend with her magic. Perhaps, he heard her mute plea. He slipped out of the side door of the theatre and sprinted toward the bridge.
“Garik!” she called urgently. “Don’t cross the bridge. Hide under.”
He glanced towards her voice, his eyes full of panic. “Why me? What did I do? I’m a comedian,” he mouthed. Dropping on his knees, he scuttled between the low bushes into the muddy nook under the bridge, the hiding place all the local children knew. Unless someone stood in the middle of the creek right in front of him, he would be invisible.
“You make people laugh,” Tasya whispered. She pressed her back to the willow, willing the hanging branches to turn into a true curtain, to envelop her in gloom. Her magic obeyed, and not too soon.
The two men from the Marusia burst out of the theatre. Waving their guns, they pounded towards the bridge. If Garik were fleeing that way, they would’ve seen him despite the descending night. As they didn’t, they stopped to confer a couple steps from Tasya’s refuge, almost on top of Garik’s.
“He didn’t run across,” one officer muttered. “We would’ve spotted him. Where did he go?”
She needed a distraction. Her gaze fell on the handcuffs suspended from their belts. They were so close, her magic sensed the weight of the handcuffs, and the darkness under the willow was almost absolute. All the conditions needed to steal with magic.
Thanking her grandma for the timely felony lesson, Tasya latched onto the handcuffs and tugged with her magic. She didn’t pull them towards herself. She tossed them as far away as her magic could reach, into the shrubbery along the theatre wall. The leaves rustled faintly, as one set of the handcuffs landed, then another.
“There he is,” an officer shouted and took off after the handcuffs. Another followed. Both disappeared around the corner.
“Across the bridge, Garik,” Tasya hissed. “Hurry!”
He scrambled from underneath and raced across the bridge, vanishing into the bushes of the ravine. Much more slowly, she waddled after him. The officers didn’t show up again, but she watched from the safety of the ravine as the Marusia drove rapidly away from the theatre. It would head towards the large traffic bridge, blocks away.
“Garik, where are you?” The ravine didn’t provide any illumination.
“I’m here.” He grabbed her hand and guided her towards the street lights and home. “Careful. If you fall down now and break something, Misha would skin me alive, worse than those NKVD goons. I’ll just run home, pick up some stuff, and be gone.”
“No, don’t go home. They know where you live.”
“By the time they drive around, I’ll be long gone.”
“What if they already have someone waiting there?”
Garik swore. “What do I do? I don’t have much money with me.”
“I do.” Luckily. She rummaged in her purse for the stash of coins she had stolen from the passersby earlier and thrust the small jiggling canvas bag at him. “That should be enough to keep you fed for a while.” Then she took off the fish necklace and put it over Garik’s head. “You slipped through their net once. This fish will keep you slippery, so they never catch you. Wear this medallion always, promise me,” she whispered, pouring her magic into the fish. The golden creature seemed to flutter for a moment under her fingers.
“Thank you, Tasya. I promise.”
They were already close enough to the street lights so Tasya could finally see the path under her feet. She pushed Garik away. “Go. Leave Moscow, and you’ll be safe.”
He nodded, started to say something, changed his mind, and melted into the side street.
Tasya felt light, almost weightless without the burden of coins in her purse. No, she realized. It wasn’t just the coins. Her premonition had lifted. She smiled and shuffled home.